Saturday, April 14, 2007


Kids love nothing more than to learn through hands-on manipulation and creativity. For those teachers who use comics and graphic novels in the classroom, making use of the medium can be an engaging tool for students, but there is more to using comics in the classroom than simply reading them.

There is certainly an argument to be made for students taking their knowledge and creating their own comic book. I just finished a similar assignment in my Biology class. We spent a few weeks studying the mealworm and keeping data on the organism. Eventually we learned that the mealworm is not really a worm at all, but the larva stage of the Darkling Beetle. Like the caterpillar, the Darkling Beetle goes through the process of metamorphosis.

Our assignment, given after we studied the mealworm, was to write a children’s book on the subject. Elementary and secondary teachers could do similar assignments allowing students to choose their own book format. This is the perfect time for a student to use the idea of comic book in a way that is fresh, new and engaging. This would take time on the part of the teacher to instruct about the creation of a comic book – plot, characters, sequence, illustrations, panels, dialogue and thought bubbles, and narration – but it could reap some creative results.

In the technology-based classroom, this could be really fun with the use of comic book creation software. In my own situation, I used the program, Comic Life 1.3, a Macintosh-based program that has received the “Best Product New to Mac OS X 2005” award. Not all technology-based classrooms have Macs, but some do. Comic Life does not currently come in a PC version, but the company is working toward one. Classroom and District licenses are available for a very reasonable cost.

This program was a lot of fun and was easy to use. It functions by using your own photos from your computer’s iPhoto library. I could have easily done my own illustrations by hand, scanned them and then imported them into iPhoto.

Once in the iPhoto library, the images are instantly accessible to Comic Life without having to do anything. There are page templates available, comic fonts, and colors to make things more fun. The pages are formatted for an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper rather than traditional comic size.

My comic book was nine pages long. I chose to make my characters (Percy the mealworm and his mother a darkling beetle) out of my 6-year-old daughter’s modeling clay, then I shot the clay characters with my digital camera. A high quality technology-based class should have a digital camera. I then uploaded the photos to iPhoto and turned them into black and white shots. Then I formatted my pages using the templates and came out with a fun little comic at the end. I took my images to Fed-Ex/Kinkos and had my comic printed on 11”x17” glossy paper, had it folded and stapled and put it in a magazine-sized bag and board. Most classes would not need to have it printed on fancy paper. Printing and binding is up to the teacher and the resources available to the school, but there are several different inexpensive solutions.

Introducing comics into the classroom in an alternative way, gives the students a new way to process information and use their creativity. It can also give students an appreciation of the craft that goes into producing a high quality piece of comic literature. Besides being fun, my project helped me not only learn but internalize the information, making it a lasting experience. Following is my little comic that I put together for my Biology class using Comic Life 1.3:

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